The words found in the book of Lamentations are a reminder of the need for our repentance and self examination, as well as a reminder of the hope that God has prepared for us.
How Lonely Sits The City
“How lonely sits the city That was full of people! How like a widow is she, Who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces Has become a slave!”
And so begins the poetry of a man who’s nation was destroyed by its enemies. The streets of the capital city are so empty that wild animals walk among the homes instead of the bustling of the feet of its own residents.
The book of Lamentations is often hidden in obscurity among the writings of what we often call “The Major Prophets.” The commonly used name in Hebrew for this book translates as ‘How' since this is the first word used in the majority of its chapters. These statements of ‘How’ are not phrased as rhetorical questions, but as expressions of anguish over the failings of a people and anguish over the justified removal of blessings from God.
This book of poems contains only 5 Chapters. Each chapter stands as its own poem, the first 4 of which are Acrostic Poems. Each line begins with a letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, although the only chapter in complete alphabetic sequence is Chapter 1. The other chapters have slight variations on this basic format, Chapter 3 standing out in the fact that each letter gets 3 Lines instead of only 1.
The very last poem, although it also contains 22 verses as if it should have the same acrostic format, stands alone as a prayer for the restoration of a people after they have been rejected because of their ongoing sins.
The use of the Acrostic layout may have held the purpose of making the poetry more easily memorized by those in captivity who would later read these words and cry out to God in their own personal moments of anguish.
As we read through the lines of this poetry, we can easily see that the words of the poet, most likely Jeremiah, end as they begin, with anguish and tears, feelings of being brought down low. But in the middle chapter we reach the peak of a crescendo that rose up from the bottom and will decrescendo back down on the other side.
Like climbing a very steep mountain as we read, with great moments of realization and turning back to God in times when everything seems the dimmest and darkest. Let’s look at a few of these high points of realization contained in the middle of the book.
Lamentations 3:1-3 Lamentations 3:1-3  I AM the man that has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.
 He has led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.
 Surely against me is he turned; he turns his hand against me all the day.
American King James Version×
1 I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath. 2 He has led me and made me walk In darkness and not in light. 3 Surely He has turned His hand against me Time and time again throughout the day.
Jeremiah here recalls the agony of his own difficulties, and in the same breath expresses the anguish and lament of the entire nation of Israel which had been given into captivity by their God. These are bitter words of the acceptance of this justified punishment.
15 He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drink wormwood. 16 He has also broken my teeth with gravel, And covered me with ashes. 17 You have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity. 18 And I said, “My strength and my hope Have perished from the Lord.” 19 Remember my affliction and roaming, The wormwood and the gall. 20 My soul still remember And sinks within me.
Suddenly the tune of the lament changes as we approach the very middle point of the poem.
21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.
God never leaves His people, nor the entire human race, without hope. From beginning to end, God’s word is a book of hope, just as our God is a God of hope.
22 Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” 25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the soul who seeks Him. 26 It is good that one should hope and wait quietly For the salvation of the Lord.
The poet expresses the need to humbly wait for God, and to realize that it is for His purposes that trials come upon us, for our own personal growth. We are even given a lesson in not rebuking those who bring anguish into our lives.
Verse 30 should make us think of the very words of our Redeemer, when He said: “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:39 Matthew 5:39But I say to you, That you resist not evil: but whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.
American King James Version×)
It is difficult to keep silent in our periods of anguish, or when we see injustices happening. But we know that there are times when we silently wait for our God, knowing full well that:
31 …the Lord will not cast off forever. 32 Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion According to the multitude of His mercies. 33 For He does not afflict willingly, Nor grieve the children of men.
The only reason God brings punishment upon people is because, at that moment, it is the only way to get their attention so they might turn back to Him.
40 Let us search out and examine our ways, And turn back to the Lord; 41 Let us lift our hearts and hands To God in heaven.
55 I called on Your name, O Lord, From the lowest pit. 56 You have heard my voice: “Do not hide Your ear From my sighing, from my cry for help.” 57 You drew near on the day I called on You, And said, “Do not fear!”
These same words should also be on our minds, and on our lips as we cry out to our God and know that He will hear us, and that we should not fear.
The book closes in this way:
Lamentations 5:19-22 Lamentations 5:19-22  You, O LORD, remain for ever; your throne from generation to generation.
 Why do you forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time?
 Turn you us to you, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.
 But you have utterly rejected us; you are very wroth against us.
American King James Version×
19 You, O Lord, remain forever; Your throne from generation to generation. 20 Why do You forget us forever, And forsake us for so long a time? 21 Turn us back to You, O Lord, and we will be restored; Renew our days as of old, 22 Unless You have utterly rejected us, And are very angry with us!
We know that the Word of God doesn’t stop there. We have further instructions to examine ourselves given in other places. Let’s close with a passage 2 Corinthians:
2 Corinthians 13:5-6 2 Corinthians 13:5-6  Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except you be reprobates?
 But I trust that you shall know that we are not reprobates.
American King James Version×
5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 6 But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified.